Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular 2015 London #DWSS
have thought that the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular #DWSS would go on to do
another 36 shows after their humble beginnings in Melbourne on February 4th,
2012? I did not. Nor did I predict that I would be attending so many. For me at least, seeing this iridescent
production grow each year, has become a special thing to witness and is also
perhaps one of the reasons that I continue to attend the show despite not
actually being located in any of the countries or cities that the team have toured to.
Of course, this heartwarming feeling is quantified this spring, for after performing a total of 23 shows in Australia and New Zealand for the last three years, the wonderful #DWSS team, of whom I have a grown to feel a deep affection for, are taking the show back home to the UK.
Performing in six cities across the United Kingdom with a total of thirteen performances, this May indeed promises to be bigger on the inside, as the whole gang, (which this time includes the BBC National Orchestra of Wales), will travel and perform an average of two shows a day with barely a day of rest between each day. Having worked on productions before, I can just imagine what this feels like (bump-in, bump-out, tech rehearsals, performances, repeat) and take my hat off to the whole team, especially the techies and in particular the stage manager(s), for this TARDIS of a feat.
The first stop of the tour begins in London at the SSE Arena Wembley on 23rd and 24th May, a total of three performances – two matinees and an evening. With a programme similar to the array of compositions during the ANZ tour earlier this year, I was definitely looking forward to listening to, and breathing it all in, if music notes could be inhaled, all over again.
The set list of the DWSS UK included ‘A Good Man?’, ‘Wherever, Whenever (Anywhere in time and Space?)’, ‘Doctor’s Theme / Song of Freedom’, ‘The Companions’, ‘To Darkness’, ‘Last Christmas’, ‘All the Strange, Strange Creatures’, ‘The Impossible Girl’, ‘66 Seconds’, ‘The Pandorica Suite’, ‘Abigail’s Song’, ‘Fifty - The is Gallifrey’, ‘Death in Heaven’, ‘Vale Decem’, and the ‘Doctor Who Theme’.
Announced in late July 2014, it took me just as long to wait for this UK production as it was to save up the quids for its journey. Yet, hearing that first set of notes of ‘A Good Man?’ performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales usually set asides all reservations of what madness prompted me to ‘follow the tour’…
There is a certain incandescent magic that exist in ‘A Good Man?’ - the prelude that builds up; a combination of lighting on stage, the legato strings, and the vocals by soloist Elin Manahan Thomas - as it slowly draws the audience into the composition, like skipping stones across a water body of stars…
The piece then explodes majestically, and your heart just explodes along with it. The strings, followed by the percussion, all intertwined together with that level of conducting – worth every single of my work day and hours at the theatre and arena that I took to save up for it!
In the second movement, it becomes almost possible that every heart string imaginable in all of space and time has been pulled, the heart soars with the music notes that reverberate and cascade around the venue.
The last movement ends the piece as the Welsh orchestra bring the composition to a close and Elin’s voice pulls it all together - perfection, and what I consider, when I first heard it in Perth in January, to be the best piece to start with. It is a representation of what the DWSS performance is –just iridescence. There will be tears, there will be more tears, there will admiration for every single detail that goes into making the production, from music to lighting to conducting to choreography, there will be laughter, and scares, and above all, it will be like no other concert that you have ever attended.
I have attended numerous DWSS performances down under, and I still get goosebumps at every single one of them.
‘A Good Man?’ is followed next by the first of many monster appearances.
It is one of the highlights of a Doctor Who concert – seeing monsters invade the venue as you hear the wonderful music from Who. For the children, I cannot help but smile at their excitement with a pinch of terror, as they look excitedly around the hall for Daleks and other monsters.
Yet sometimes, it does not matter whether you are a child or an adult, this excitement-terror feeling is evident in all ages. For the third performance in London, the lady beside me who was almost deleted by a Cyberman, turned to me after the piece and said, “That truly did scare me! I was not expecting that!” This same lady, I noticed later, was crying during ‘The Companions’.
Indeed, it is moments like these which merely heightens the rare nature of this concert and makes it all the more special. I was attacked by a Dalek and a Judoon. And while I have not actually cried during a DWSS, there are many wonderful poignant moments in the pieces that is played that strikes a core with me, tugging at my heartstrings like love at first sight or a first heartbreak.
Composer Murray Gold, does these compositions so well. Each element blends in so succinctly with the characters and the story, it is almost like watching and listening to music that was created in and for all of time and space.
For most moments, I cannot help but count along to the time signature, for others, tap my fingers, and for others yet, sing along. I happily blame the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra, of which I am a part of, for this, especially for the singing. For instance, I can never get through ‘To Darkness, without singing along, albeit softly or just mouthing the lyrics. A bit hard when you are also trying to avoid a roving dalek or two…
Music aside, there are elements of the technical side of a DWSS production that makes it so interesting, and more so for me since I have studied arts management and worked on productions before.
Choreography of the monsters, for instance, might seem like a simple process of walking around the arena dressed up in a costume. However, there is a certain art and precision to it that goes beyond just walking around and scaring the living daylights out of the Whovians in the arena, which is also why only dancers and actors are chosen to play these monsters. Just like a dance performance, there is a certain way to stand, each gait is different, the timing to move on cue and be in sync with the beats in the music, almost like a click track you hear in your head, as well as being aware of the surroundings around you - that last bit, particularly difficult if you cannot see much from inside your costume. I noticed this for the Dream Crabs and the Cybermen; the former, a sort of walk-pause-walk gait, almost during ‘Last Christmas’, while for the latter, a fast march during the last movement in ‘Death in Heaven’, which I absolutely adored as each step synced with the time signature of the piece, and just made me want to mentally count the beats or tap my fingers along.
In addition, with not all venues alike, particularly in terms of the house and backstage area, a complicated backstage with minimal entry and exits points to the stage, (like having to run around the whole round to get from stage right to stage left), would have in turn affect timing as well. It is this technical aspect, among many others of the DWSS that I have watched and noticed and which I find extremely intriguing.
In terms of lighting, I am amazed how it continues to improve at each tour. For the gobos/patterns on the lights, one of my favourites include the ones towards the third movement of ‘A Good Man?’, the oval-shaped with an almost kaleidoscope effect in ‘Last Christmas Suite’, and the Gallifrey symbols-like ones in ‘This is Gallifrey’. I also love the lighting sequence, gels and sync between the lighting on stage, with the music and time signature of some of the pieces.
The DWSS really continues to be the pinnacle of what music of time and space really is about.
For elements of the choir combined with conducting, nothing competes with ‘Song of Freedom’, a poignant which builds up right up to the end. Both the choir and conducting in this piece is just epic, and at one point, you can even see conductor Ben Foster singing along. Such beautiful by the BBC National Chorus of Wales. Loved the altos in ‘Death in Heaven’!
Soloist Elin Manahan Thomas sang beautiful throughout and I fell in love with her vocals in ‘A Good Man?’, ‘Abigail’s Song’ and ‘Death in Heaven’. The haunting yet ethereal voice of Thomas in that latter piece…I could listen to that ‘lullaby’ all day.
“Sing the days of love, Softly lay me down. Tenderly the night will come…”
There is a certain deep, round, if I were to describe coffee or wine, rich and full-bodied flavour to her voice, that coats, in this case the hearing palates instead of the taste ones. My favourite was her version of ‘Abigail’s Song’ as well as her powerful delivery of vocals at the end of ‘A Good Man?’. I had a deep affection for Antoinette Halloran (who does most of the DWSS ANZ shows) before, but it is now a close fight between her and Elin Manahan Thomas now. Exquisite singing!
My favourite section in an orchestra has always been the strings, partly because I also play the violin in the DWFO, but mostly because I love the sound it produces, be it a violin, viola, cello or double bass. ‘A Good Man?’, ‘Pandorica Suite’, ’66 Seconds’ and ‘Death in Heaven’ were a treat to hear, from plucking, to vibrato, to spiccato to legato. My favourites still remain ‘A Good Man’ (the second movement), and the final movement in ‘Death in Heaven’. Absolutely brilliant!
Before I had watched any DWSS performances, I was never particularly interested in the aesthetics of conducting. This has changed having watched maestro Ben Foster conduct during a DWSS performance.
I have been to numerous other classical concerts, yet I have never seen a conductor drive the orchestra, be it the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, the way Foster does. There is a certain style to his conducting; the passion, swashbuckling swish, jig-dance movements is extremely, if not intriguing and rather entertaining to gaze upon, also extremely infectious and inspiring to watch as well.
For instance, in ‘Pandorica’s Suite’ during variations of ‘Majestic Tale’ and ‘I am the Doctor’, this incandescence spark of conducting level just ignites, and I am constantly in awe of such precision and talent.
In addition, apart from conducting, this rebel conductor who defends the show and the orchestra against Daleks that come on stage during ‘To Darkness’. How Foster regenerated from a slave conductor (back in earlier DWSS productions) to a rebel conductor, I have no idea. But the ‘BAFTA-acting’ has escalated, and it is always one of my favourite segments to watch, especially if I am seated in the first row. In addition, Peter Davison has got into the act as well. There is tea involved…
With a great conductor, comes an equally great host and who else to better host a DWSS other than the Doctor himself, Peter Davison? The script and the banter between Davison and Foster was extremely witty, it varies from venues and for Wembley, there were jokes about the WWII bomb that was found in the Wembley area just prior to start of tour. I shudder in anticipation to think how mad this script would be implemented by the time Glasgow came around.
There are indeed so many things concerning a DWSS production which I love, and for obvious reasons since I have been to so many, but I will leave that for my reviews for Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow.
For those who have been to one, you will now understand what I mean. I am actually really glad that this production has finally been shown in the UK, because it is different from any previous Doctor Who concerts. It is indeed a very, very special production with a very, very special team.
A team of which, if I were British and have the right to be hired in the UK, would have applied for any position with them a long time ago. But, until they actually come to Singapore, I will always save up and try to go to one…
To me, it will always be the most iridescent show in all of space and time…
All in all, with the minor kerfuffle when one of the LX cues came out a tad delayed for the evening London performance during ‘All the Strange, Strange Creatures’, to my worry for the actors and dancers in the monsters, the hat trick of performances in the UK were great. There were so many happy Whovians in the audience; adults and children, and it certainly brought back memories of the inaugural one in Melbourne on Feb 4th 2012. You always remember your first and I am sure many would remember that day for a long time to come…